Kaifu Japanese Cuisine and Sushi Bar – Downtown, Charleston, WV
There was a time when I think you could call sushi trendy, but when Charleston has two dedicated sushi bars, three restaurants that serve good sushi (Taste of Asia, Hibachi, Ichiban), several chinese buffets and Kroger offering sushi, I think it is safe to say that sushi is mainstream. What is not mainstream is the social network that we used to obtain our dining partners for our sushi lunch, Twitter. @oncee and @blairly, along with several others suggested that we hit Kaifu for sushi the first chance we got. So emails and Tweets where exchanged, and a date was set.
Three of the Five arrived at 12:30 to find a packed dining room. This place is small and is the definition of a “Hole in the Wall”. The very cozy dining room holds about 30 people. The sushi chef toils away in the back corner making little raw fish treasures. This place is quaint and it makes me think this is what a sushi bar in downtown Tokyo would look like. There are all kinds of people dining today from the $1000 suit lawyer to the 9 year old boy eating with his dad. This place feels almost hip.
The waitress brings us our menu and asks for our drink orders with a little bow. I would not have noticed this bow, but she performed the point of courtesy everytime she came to the table. All drinks are $1.95 including hot green tea. Hearing my father say, “When in Rome…” I ordered tea. I can remember him saying that at lunch in the King’s Arms Tavern when I was ten and wondering what it meant. The tea had a semi-translucent green hue. The flavor wasn’t very bright and it had an earthy, fresh cut grass flavor. I read that flavor could be caused by tea being stored incorrectly. More likely it is what it tastes like and my uncultured palate doesn’t know any better.
We looked over the lunch menu and tried to fiqure out what would give us a good variety. Hint: They have specials that we didn’t see until we walked out. Several things look good, but they will have to wait until another time. I ultimately chose the Sushi Combination A, which gave me a California Roll and five kinds of sushi for $10.95. The Cali roll looked and tasted uninspired. Just plain sushi rice, avocado and krab. Add soy and wasabi and it was good to go. My five kinds of sushi were smoked salmon, raw salmon, shrimp, krab and real crab with tabasco. My favorites were the smoked salmon and the crab with Tabasco. This was a nice meal, but I had serious food envy for Susan and Phil’s bento boxes. I was able to steal a tempura mushroom out of Phil’s box. It was a deep fried portabello mushroom. The fungi was sliced thin, battered and fried. There is no way that could be bad.
Our service was good neary for two forgotten salads, but they were served with the meal. I’ll be back to try something more exotic or to get my own bento box. Try out the THREE Fork Kaifu sometime soon.
I was all geared up for sushi today, having braced my system for all the carbohydrates in the sticky white rice. But when I reviewed the laminated menu, I didn’t see a combo lunch that suited me. The problem was the sushi combination lunches included the uber-popular California Roll, of which I am one of only a handful of US citizens who don’t care for them.
I wanted spicy tuna roll ($6.95), shrimp and veggie tempura (another $6.95) and our friend Stanton, hot dog officianado, reccommended the edamame ($3.95). Hmmmm……my total was building fast. Plus, I couldn’t eat all that. I wish this place had a buffet where I could just sample things. There were so many other things on the menu that I would love to try but I only want a couple bites of each. I was sending telepathic messages to the other folks at the table, mentally requesting that someone, SOMEONE, order those edamame so I could try a few bites, even brought up the topic with Daniel. No luck.
When you make your own virgin visit to Kaifu, be aware that the combinations that say something like: “California roll and 5 types of sushi” means they choose the five types of sushi you will eat. And the menu does not specify what they are. That just plain makes me uncomfortable. I like to know what I am eating, especially if I am paying for it. That’s a sushi crap shoot….buying a sushi pig in a poke, if you will.
I ultimately decided on one of the bento boxes called the Osaka Box: chicken teriyaki, fruit, shrimp & veggie tempura and tossed salad for $9.95. The other box (which Phil ordered) also contains 4 pieces of California Roll for an extra dollar. It is obvious why I did not choose that one. The portion sizes in my Box were perfect: not too large that I couldn’t eat everything, but not so small that I was left wanting more. It was the Goldilocks of portion sizes. Our server accidentally forgot to bring the salads out in advance of the hot items, but we were enjoying stories from Blair and Bill so the wait (which they said was longer than usual) seemed to pass by quickly. (A note about Blair – I think she might be a sushiaholic. You might see her hanging around outside one of the sushi places around town.)
My food was delicious overall. The chicken was cut into perfect small bite-size pieces. This is the way to do it when you have a smaller amount, it makes it look like you have more chicken and it stretches further through the rice. The teriyaki sauce was thick and a bit too salty for me, even for a soy-based concoction. It reminded me of the Kikkoman Teriyaki Baste & Glaze that I used to use on occasion before the Carb Hammer came down. The ginger salad dressing was plentiful, thick and tangy. It made that iceberg lettuce taste great. It is similar to the dressing you receive at a Hibachi steakhouse. Yummy. But the best part of the box were the tempura. I got 2 pieces each of veggie and shrimp and was thrilled, because I expected only one each. The shrimp were great, the batter delicious and the dipping sauce was the perfect accompaniment. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed the mushroom tempura – mushrooms almost made my list of foods I cannot tolerate, but were edged out by sausage at the wire. This mushroom was great, not spongy at all and how bad could any food be when it is covered in tempura batter and deep fried? Really? Maybe I could even eat mayonaisse that way, if I could figure out how to get the battter wrapped around a blob of mayo.
The Mount Fuji summit of this meal was the Japanese Onion Ring, otherwise known as onion tempura. OMG – it was awesome. I think they should offer a basket of those on the menu. Ron would have had a religious experience over these onions. Phil said Dan could have a piece of his because he wouldn’t be able to eat everything and before the sentence was fully out of Phil’s mouth, Dan’s chopsticks were grabbing a piece of tempura out of Phil’s box. Dan was hoping for an onion (since I was going on and on about it) but it was a mushroom. Still delicious though!
As good as everything else was, I must say something about the fruit. It came from a can. Seriously. It didn’t even look like they were trying to disguise that it came from a can. At least the bags of frozen fruit have larger, irregular chunks of fruit that resemble fresh when thawed. If canned is the best you can do, just don’t bother. The fruit brought down the credibility of the entire meal. It made me wonder what else was fake.
Dan didn’t admit his obvious disappointment when he saw the K-rab on his plate, but we could all see it on his face and his hesitation to dig in – his chopsticks were at the ready before his plate was placed before him. In defense of Kaifu on this one, a lot of people (especially in a land-locked state like ours) really like K-rab and, in fact, it is the only “crab” they know. I think the reason he got one of each (K-rab and actual crab) is the popularity of the phony stuff. Another reason could be the reluctance of some people (not naming any names here, but one starts with “P” and ends with “hil”) to try sushi due to the raw nature of some of the ingredients.
The price of the sodas: $1.95. Ouch. I leave the restaurant with a sore tushy when I am charged around the $2 mark for a fountain drink.
When we had paid our bills and were headed out the door, Dan noticed the chalkboard full of specials which gave me a pang of Food Regret. I think our server should have made sure we were aware of the specials when she gave us the menus. I will know to look for it next time, on the right-hand wall as you walk in. It’s kind of hard to see, so make sure you check it out.
This is a neat little place, very busy, so you know it’s popular. My tab totaled around $14 with tax and tip, which is steep for lunch, but I got a lot of food and was full the rest of the afternoon. I definitely want to come back, but I am going to propose we play musical dishes where everyone orders something different and you take a bite and pass it around until the music stops. That way I get to try a lot of different things without having to secure a loan to pay for my lunch. I think “I’m Turning Japanese” by the Vapors would be an appropriate soundtrack for that dining adventure. Dan can load it on his iBrick, uh… I mean… iPhone.
THREE FORKS. (for now – you know how I love Asian food, the fork count could go up next time)Kaifu Japanese Cuisine and Sushi Bar 150 Court Street Charleston, WV 25301 (304) 344-0500